He’s become a favorite of Rockin’ John McDonald, the venerable host, for over 37 years, of Madison, Wis. listener-sponsored radio station WORT-FM’s Saturday night rock ‘n’ roll show I Like It Like That.
Indeed, the voluble Larry Tamblyn was a rare on-air call-in guest for the second time a month ago for the entire two-hour program, which was devoted to Tamblyn’s historic garage rock band The Standells.
This time, however, Tamblyn and the band—which he founded in 1962 in Los Angeles, but remains forever known for its immortal 1966 Boston ode “Dirty Water”—has a new album, Bump, its first in 46 years.
“Two years ago we got together and I told the guys, ‘We’ve got to make a choice,’” says Tamblyn, admittedly exhausted by all the print and radio interviews he’s been doing in support of Bump.
“We could step backward and continue on the oldies circuit, or take a giant leap forward and do something new and exciting and ‘put a bump in the road,' so to speak.”
It was a giant leap, Tamblyn continues, because the band had “no songs, material or studio.”
Still, the band decided to jump over the bump and “stick to the Standells sound.”
“It’s pretty much like we’re back in the ‘60s—but taking the past to the present,” says the vocalist/keyboardist. “It’s almost like we never quit recording.”
All of the band—now also consisting of fellow longtime member John Fleck on bass, singer/guitarist Mark Adrian and drummer Greg Burnham--took part in the songwriting, resulting in seven originals of the album’s 10 cuts.
“It took a lot of effort, as some of us hadn’t written for awhile,” says Tamblyn. “I wrote ‘Mr. One Percent,’ a tongue-in-cheek but serious take on how the wealthy are grabbing us by the cojones and taking all we’ve got—and with a ‘60s feel. John and I wrote ‘It’s All About The Money,' which is more up-to-date musically but basically about the same thing: the average working stiff trying to make a living while wealthy guys are taking it all.”
Adrian, at 55 the Standell’s youngster, joined Fleck and Burnham in writing “She’s Just 18,” and also penned “Big Fat Liar.”
“The guys wrote—and I sang—‘Bump In The Night,' which was one they didn’t need much help on, but it needed a sax solo, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t come up with a really neat sax sound on the keyboard,” says Tamblyn. “We were determined to be completely self-contained, and built our own garage studio—‘Dirty Water’ was recorded in a garage--and I produced and engineered.”
And since “Dirty Water” is so closely tied to Boston—it’s become the Red Sox victory anthem—the group also wanted to do a song to further support the town as it heals from the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We all wrote ‘Boston’s Badass,” says Tamblyn, noting that the song was originally titled “Badass,” but was rewritten “as an empowerment song to celebrate the toughness and resilience of the people there, how they get up and start all over again.”
Big Standells fan Jeff Conolly, who leads Boston garage rock band The Lyres, convinced them to cover his band’s popular song “Help You Ann.” They also cover fellow L.A. garage rock bands The Seeds’ classic 1966 hit “Pushing Too Hard” and Love’s “7 & 7 Is,” Fleck, who then went by Johnny Fleckenstein, having been Love’s original bassist before joining The Standells in 1967.
“So there’s quite a variety,” says Tamblyn. “People who’ve listened to it say there’s not one weak song on the album. It really is a giant leap, and so symbolic of where we’re at and what we’ve gone through in order to make this album.”
It’s the first new album from The Standells since Try It in 1967, not counting “recordings we did after that sat on the shelf and weren’t released until the ‘80s and ‘90s, and some compilation albums,” notes Tamblyn. It’s out on GRA Records, a small label that also has new recordings by The Seeds and the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
“I think it’s great,” says Rockin’ John McDonald. “It’s hard to measure against what they did in the ‘60s all these years later, because it’s a different lineup. But it’s got the attitude--The Standells’ attitude. Like in their hit ‘Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,’ which had the line ‘You don't dig this long hair, get yourself a crew-cut baby’—punk before it’s time! They had an ‘us against them’ mentality in a lot of tunes and were acknowledged as a huge influence on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists like The Ramones and The Stooges.”
The Standells celebrated the release of Bump at L.A.’s Satellite club and is now looking for like venues outside their hometown.
“My own son accused me of altering my voice for the recording—which is natural when I sing those high notes!” says Tamblyn, who proudly notes that he is a prostate cancer survivor.
“I like to get the message out there,” he says. “When you get into your fifties, you should monitor it. But I feel really good now: I’m working out at the gym—and still jumping around and singing. We played South By Southwest last year and headlined at the Monterey Summer Festival of Love, and we’re headlining the Ponderosa Stomp next month in New Orleans, with special guest Johnny Echols—Love’s guitarist.”
And humbled to have friends of The Standells “all over the world now,” Tamblyn reiterates his appreciation that the group has “managed to stay active and do something that’s new and unique, that perhaps a lot of groups like us never had the opportunity to do.”
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